Medical Records Abandoned, Rotting in Shuttered Chicago Hospital

Medical records containing sensitive patient information like Social Security numbers and treatment details have been left scattered throughout an abandoned medical facility on the north side of Chicago for nearly 12 years, according to recent reports by the Chicago Tribune and WGN-TV.

Photo by Ken Fager, reused under Creative Commons license.

Photo credit: Ken Fager, used under Creative Commons.

There have been several break-ins at the facility since Edgewater Medical Center abruptly shut down operations over a decade ago following struggles with Medicare fraud controversy, mismanagement, and bankruptcy, according to WGN-TV.

After receiving a complaint in 2009, the Illinois Department of Public Health inspected the facility. According to the Tribune article, a memo filed following the inspection noted several concerning conditions:

  • The door to the room where medical records were stored did not lock
  • Medical files were scattered throughout the building
  • Boxes of files were covered with mold
  • Graffiti was on the walls in the facility

 

Although some measures were taken to make the conditions of the records more secure, such as adding locks to doors and restoring heat, the condition of the records is much the same as it was before the 2009 inspection.

“This isn’t the first story I’ve seen like this recently,” said Angela Dinh Rose, MHA, RHIA, CHPS, FAHIMA, a director of HIM practice excellence at AHIMA. “People really don’t realize the full life cycle of a health record. Those records should have been handled appropriately before the hospital closed down.”

Although the 10 year period required by law in Illinois for retaining the medical records has passed, they still remain in the building. The court-appointed custodian that currently controls the former hospital has begun taking action to obtain permission to destroy the records, which could legally have been destroyed beginning in 2011.

Proper retention and disposal of medical records is important for the security and privacy of patients’ information and the continued availability of relevant data contained in the record. For guidelines on retention requirements and best practices that should be followed when a healthcare facility closes, see AHIMA’s practice briefs Protecting Information after a Facility Closure and Retention and Destruction Guidelines.

Photo by Ken Fager, reused under Creative Commons license.

Photo credit: Ken Fager, used under Creative Commons.

For the full investigative report on the situation at the former Edgewater Medical Center, click here for the Chicago Tribune article and here for the report on WGN-TV.

 

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